Stories to Watch: 9/25/11
Yet another shorty. Deal with it. Now here’s the news…
Occupy Wall Street protests take a dark turn as police begin seemingly spontaneous mass arrests. Widespread reports of excessive force characterize the independent reporting from the scene and although mainstream sources also acknowledge the violence, they don’t seem to go beyond reporting press releases.
Herman Cain wins a meaningless Florida beauty contest, while Mittens takes the pageant crown in Michigan.
Ann Althouse simply doesn’t understand why people get upset over the death penalty, but not life imprisonment. I pays to remind people that she’s a Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin. You’d expect her to be bright enough to understand the difference between life and death.
Also in fun with the death penalty news; NYT’s Ross Douthat argues that Troy Davis was kind of lucky there’s a death penalty.
Finally, one of those news items you really don’t know which way to take; Saudi Arabia will allow women to vote and run for office. Of course, that doesn’t mean all that much in a sham democracy.
The Politics of Hate
It’s the most rabid opponents of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state who argue that freedom of religion isn’t the same thing as freedom from religion. We can’t be “protected” from exposure to religion in everyday life and it’s not the government’s job to keep religion lock up in churches and temples and mosques.
Which is interesting, because these same people fight for laws to free us from religions they disapprove of. It was, after all, Republicans who fought to keep Wiccan chaplains out of the armed forces, for example. And let’s not even get started on protecting Americans from the evils of atheism. When the argument is made that there is no freedom from religion, what’s really meant is that government can’t protect you from exposure to Christianity — every other religion is fair game.
This is the case with Oklahoma’s “Save Our State" amendment, which is meant to protect that state from the evils of sharia law. Of course, saving Oklahoma from the dangers of sharia is completely unnecessary — not only is the state in no danger of falling to Muslim fundamentalist authoritarianism, but religious-based law is already unconstitutional. as threats go, this is about as close to nonexistent as you can get without involving unicorns and fairies.
But of course, the purpose of the amendment to the state’s constitution has nothing at all to do with any actual threat, it was merely a referendum on Islam itself, meant to both promote bigotry and use that bigotry to bring people to the polls. It’s not about solving a problem, but of creating the appearance of one, while at the same time encouraging people to let hate and fear inform their decisions. Saudi Arabia has Muslims, Oklahoma has Muslims, therefore Oklahoma is in danger of becoming Saudi Arabia. Be terrified — and don’t forget to keep hating those Muslims.
It’s at this point that I very nearly wrote, “Luckily, this is all unconstitutional.” Except luck has nothing to do with it. It’s unconstitutional by design. Freedom of religion means freedom of religion and, if you don’t like a certain religion, tough luck. The words the right practically worship — “freedom” and “liberty” — are words that actually mean something. And the plain fact is that passing laws to fight a religion aren’t the definitions of those words. It’s the opposite of the definitions of those words.
So a federal judge blocked the amendment. Before you start yelling “states’ rights!” and “tenth amendment!” I remind you that the US Constitution is the supreme law of the land. If you want to write something crazy into your states constitution, that’s all very cute and adorable. But if it’s contrary to the US Constitution, you’re wasting your time. You don’t get to do that.
Religious organizations agree. When states are allowed to pick and choose which religions they approve of, then you have states engaging in the “establishment of religion.” They’re only doing it subtractively — rule out religions until there’s only one left, but pass no law specifically establishing that state religion.
But the main purpose was to cash in on the rightwing “ground zero mosque” hysteria before that fad faded into the background. Get people freaked out about Muslims taking over, then get people to go to the polls to vote against it. It wasn’t sharia that was being attacked, it was Islam.
“The BJC’s brief argues that the Oklahoma amendment violates the Establishment Clause for two separate and distinct reasons,” reports Baptists Today of the Baptist Joint Committee, who’ve written a “friend of the court” brief supporting the judge’s decision. “First, ‘the amendment’s purpose plainly is to disapprove of the Islamic tradition.’ Secondly, ‘the amendment’s dual specific references to Shari law — and to no other religious tradition — have the unambiguous effect of communicating official disapproval of Islam.’”
How is this good for America? How is encouraging Americans to hate and fear other Americans helpful to the nation? And this is the GOP’s modus operandi — whether it’s gays or atheists or Wiccans or Muslims. Those Americans over there — they’re the problem. Eliminating them from public discourse will solve everything. Let’s pass us some laws.
And they call themselves patriots.
Fracking: Bad for You, Good for China
The Marcellus shale formation is a huge deposit of rock that formed from the floor of a prehistoric sea. And it’s massive. Taking up a large chunk of (mostly) the northeastern United States, it stretches from Alabama to New York, laying under vast swaths of many of the states in between:
Like any ocean, the ocean that formed the Marcellus was heavily populated by lifeforms, and this means that the lifeforms left behind organic chemicals — which means fossil fuels. In this case, natural gas.
The Marcellus formation may very well be the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. In September, the Scranton Times Tribune reported that, in “the 12 months between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, the state’s 632 producing Marcellus wells released 180 billion cubic feet of gas — an amount that more than doubles Pennsylvania’s annual natural gas production from the years before the shale exploration began.”
There’s a challenge to extraction from the Marcellus, however. It’s not what’s called a “conventional” deposit — meaning all the natural gas is in big pockets. The Marcellus is more like a sponge, with each tiny little hole being filled with methane. You could drill down and extract from one of these holes, but you’d get a soda bottle worth of gas out of it. Not worth the effort.
So the industry is using a technique known as “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking.” With fracking, you drill a hole into the shale horizontally, like a sewer pipe, then you pump water and chemicals into the hole under tremendous pressure. This fractures the stone, releasing the natural gas trapped in some of the many little sponge holes of shale.
The problem is that not all the gas goes where you want it to and this happens:
Every time you open a tap, every time you wash your clothes, every time you take a shower, you open a gas leak in your house. Needless to say, this is not the optimal situation. Not only is natural gas flammable, it’s also poison.
But hey, natural gas burns cleaner than coal. Which means that if we can get enough of the stuff, we can fight global warming, right? Right?
Cornell University professors will soon publish research that concludes natural gas produced with a drilling method called “hydraulic fracturing” contributes to global warming as much as coal, or even more.
The conclusion is explosive because natural gas enjoys broad political support — including White House backing — due to its domestic abundance and lower carbon dioxide emissions when burned than other fossil fuels.
Cornell Prof. Robert Howarth, however, argues that development of gas from shale rock formations produced through hydraulic fracturing — dubbed “fracking” — brings far more methane emissions than conventional gas production.
Enough, he argues, to negate the carbon advantage that gas has over coal and oil when they’re burned for energy, because methane is such a potent greenhouse gas.
This is actually the second bad bit of news for the industry; they’ve also been arguing that increased domestic production of methane means less dependence on foreign sources of energy. This has been proven not to be the case.
Drilling companies rapidly expanding their U.S. operations in places such as Pennsylvania’s vast Marcellus shale formation repeatedly tout they are providing American jobs and securing the nation’s energy future.
Yet, a Tribune-Review examination found foreign companies are buying significant shares of these drilling projects and making plans for facilities to liquify and ship more of that natural gas overseas.
A leading player in the natural gas grab is China, whose thirst for energy to fuel its industrial explosion is growing rapidly. Others include the governments of South Korea and India, and companies in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan and Australia.
"They’re going to come in, extract all this stuff for next-to-nothing, and make global profits off it," said Pittsburgh Councilman Doug Shields. "This is beads for Manhattan, in a global sense."
Pretty apt, except along with the beads we get a polluted environment and ruined drinking water wells. It’s an even worse deal than beads for Manhattan.
The broader lesson here is that you can’t trust corporate interests. When those interests conflict with your own, you’re screwed. They’ll poison your air, poison your water, and fight you with everything they have if you complain. And they lie. People in the Marcellus area were told that fracking is safe — they’re still being told that, as gas leaks out of their kitchen faucet — and that all the extraction would mean jobs and money. What they didn’t say is that it means jobs and money for China.
And this is the same story with all domestic extraction. Look at offshore drilling; it’s turned out to be a big environmental nightmare. And where does all that oil extracted go? Into a big global pool, because it’s a commodity. Increased production at home does jack squat for oil prices, because it’s a drop in that global bucket. If we kept all the oil for ourselves, maybe we’d see a drop in price at the pump for a few months, but no, no, no — an export ban would be “protectionism.” Protectionism, for reasons that aren’t very well explained, is bad.
So we’ll keep poisoning the well at home — literally — to uphold China’s standard of living.